European study publishes guidance on interpretation for older visitors - Museums Association

European study publishes guidance on interpretation for older visitors

Recommendations aim to encourage museums to be more inclusive
Profile image for Rebecca Atkinson
Rebecca Atkinson
Interpret Europe, the association for heritage interpretation, has published best-practice guidance for providing interpretation to older audiences.

Heritage Interpretation for Seniors
was a pan-European project funded by the European Union’s Lifelong Learning Programme to enhance the learning experience of museum and heritage site visitors aged 55 and over.

Visitors, staff and volunteers from organisations in Germany, Italy, Malta, Poland and the UK, including the Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre and ss Great Britain, both in Bristol, took part in research that aimed to identify physical obstacles and produce a set of heritage interpretation guidelines for this audience.

The guidance looks at the significance of an ageing population for heritage sites, and makes key recommendations for heritage interpretation for older audiences under five headings: physical requirements for effective interpretation; intellectual access; emotional engagement; social factors influencing the success of interpretation; and cultural factors influencing the success of interpretation.

Peter Seccombe, the director of Red Kite Environment consultancy, which led the project in the UK, said that one of the strongest things to come out of the research was demand for layered information. “We found that a lot of older people wanted more information [about displays and objects] so providing layers of interpretation is really important.”

The research also found that people aged 55 and over wanted interpretation that related to their own life experiences, and they wanted the opportunity to have conversations rather than just being given information.

“This project was really about museums being inclusive spaces,” Seccombe said. “Older people don’t want to be treated as a separate group to other audiences, so our recommendations are about making sure that museums include people of all ages.”

As well as the guidance, Interpret Europe has also published a checklist that enables museums to assess their site or a project. 

The project reflects a growing awareness that museums and wider society need to address the implications of an ageing population. People aged over 55 represent about 25% of the European population, and by 2060 it is predicted that about 30% of people living in Europe Union countries will be aged 65 and over.

In the UK, more than 55% of people aged 65-74 visited a museum or gallery in 2013, according to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Taking Part survey from the second quarter of 2014-15.

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